Monday, March 14, 2011


I've mentioned my friend Christine before. She divides her time between Palm Springs and Zermatt, Switzerland,  the chi-chi tourist town located in the shadows of the Matterhorn where she was raised. Her family are hoteliers and Christine, chi-chi herself to the core, often manages the design end of a new project. In fact, she's on one of her work jaunts to Zermatt right now.

She always sends back photos and in that way I've learned of some interesting and charming Swiss customs. A few years back it was the wayfarer's chapels that dot the slopes of the Alps. Yesterday she catalogued the annual five-day Mardi Gras bash in Lucerne where the streets are jammed around the clock with folks in elaborate hand-made costumes and oversized masks. The carnival starts at 5 a.m. on Thursday morning with a "Big Bang" and ends the following Tuesday with 60-plus bands, playing at punk-band-decibel, all at once.

And yesterday, I learned of a group of folks who, thrillingly, roll up their sleeves, take up a stout staff, and in our techno-centric, speed-of-light world, go the way of medieval pilgrims:

Christine writes:

"This is something that might interest you. The strapping lads below are part of what is known as 'wandering apprentice carpenters'. Such lads occasionally show up for work in Zermatt. They are sworn to live by old guild rules. Dressed similarly to the Amish--though they are not-- they travel all over creation. They have to do so on foot or by getting a ride from someone. They are not allowed to handle finances, to pay for  train/plane/bus tickets. Nor are they allowed to pay for board and lodging.

Similar to Buddhist monks, they depend on the kindness of strangers or work off their room and board. All they are allowed to own is what they carry in a satchel on their back. This custom almost died out, but had a resurgence during the 80's. The apprentice carpenters commit to do 'the waltz' as it is known, for 3 years and 1 day, during which time they have to keep at least a 60 Km distance from their home at all times. 

During the Middle Ages, it was mandatory to do this stint in order to gather the experience necessary to become a master craftsman. Now, of course, it's strictly by choice. Girls do it as well. I think the big draw for them is the romance of the adventure.  A few years ago, I had a couple of these apprentices working for me and one of them had been all the way to Japan! They can have an email address but cell phones are not allowed. Bakers and roofers have the same tradition. The guy in white belongs to the baker's guild."

So haul out those rucksacks, folks, and wrestle down Jed Clampett for his hat! And which reminds me: I have got to write soon of an itinerant gal on our side of the shore: the late, great Peace Pilgrim.


  1. Thanks for sharing it with us! What a sight! A lovely thing to know! Brightened my day

  2. A most interesting insight!
    Our family embarked on a two-week driving tour of Europe in 2000, and I have some wonderful memories of Lucerne. It was a city of ornately painted covered bridges, and swans. Lucerne has swans as we in Michigan have sparrows.

    The other bird that was notable in the area was the great white stork. It's considered by some to be good luck if a stork makes its nest on your chimney-- so many homes modify their chimneys with small ledges near the top, encouraging the great birds to build there.


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